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Citizen-Warrior: Indiana Army Guard member blends firefighting, military into life of service

By Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser | Indiana National Guard | August 01, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — At the Indianapolis Fire Department's Station 15, located in the southeast part of the city, is a man who has dedicated his life to serving his community and country for almost 30 years. But long before he joined the fire department, he had already spent nearly 10 years in the Indiana Army National Guard.

"When I joined the Indiana [Army] National Guard in 1988, my initial goal was to pursue a college education," said Army Master Sgt. Tom Farrington, with the Indiana Army Guard's D Company (Long Range Surveillance), 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment. "I also wanted to be a helicopter pilot, so I figured the best way would be to start out as a turbine engine mechanic."

After discovering his less-than-perfect vision would prevent him from becoming a pilot, he shifted his interest in another direction and in 1994 transitioned to D Company – the famed "Indiana Rangers," who were among the few Army Guard units to deploy during the Vietnam War.

That transition to the new unit also led him to the fire department.

"At one point, a bunch of guys I was working with [in the unit] said they were going to apply for the fire department," said Farrington, adding that at the time, he knew little about the department and he wasn't interested in applying.

Instead, he was serving in the Indiana Army Guard and working construction jobs on the civilian side.

"I had worked a lot of construction before becoming a firefighter," Farrington said. "I was everything from a rough carpenter to construction superintendent."

While many children grow up with the dream of being a firefighter, Farrington never had that dream.

"You know, I never really grew up thinking I wanted to be a firefighter," Farrington said with a grin. "It really happened by coincidence."

That coincidence came when the fire department hired several Soldiers from his unit.

"A couple of them got hired and I started to realize what a great opportunity it was and how synonymous it is with serving in the military," he said.

Farrington said it was a natural transition to firefighting and that he wanted to take the skills he learned in the Army Guard and use them to serve his local community in other ways.

Service, some may say, is in Farrington's DNA.

His father is a decorated Special Forces officer who served in Korea and Vietnam and also found his calling seemingly by accident.

"My dad, Jim, was drafted for the Korean War," said Farrington. "He ended up making a career out of it though. One thing led to another and he went to Officer Candidate School, got his commission, went to airborne and Ranger school, then eventually ended up in Army Special Forces early in its inception."

His father has always been a role model in Farrington's life.

"I used to think my dad walked on water," Farrington joked. "Honestly, I thought that until I was almost 30."

Some may say Farrington isn't too different from his father.

"I've known Tom for over 15 years," said Sgt. 1st Class Josh Harveth, who served with Farrington in D Company. "He can do it all. He's able to fix a vehicle, build a structure, lead an ambush ... obviously put out fires. He's a jack of all trades."

Standing just under six feet tall and roughly 180 pounds, Farrington's brawny stature comes from years of consistent physical training, both for the military and the fire department. At 48, he still maxes the Army Physical Fitness Test and easily blends his civilian and military skills.

Others have recognized his commitment to service and community as well.

"Although Tom is one of many firefighters in Indianapolis who also serve their country in the National Guard and Reserve, he is a shining example of the commitment and integrity shown by those drawn to a life dedicated to service," said Ernest Malone, chief of the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Farrington's wife Debbie is also a firefighter with the IFD and their son, Sam, has also enlisted in the military, recently graduating from the U.S. Army Airborne School.

"Not only does he serve his city, he has instilled the call to duty in his children," said Malone, about Farrington, adding that also "reinforce[s] the holistic importance of family and service."

For Farrington, it's about the community, camaraderie and family.

"Being able to serve in both capacities is very important to me," he said. "The most significant thing I have learned from both the military and fire department is working with people from all walks of life. It really has helped as a firefighter here in Indianapolis as well as [being] a Soldier at my unit."